YouTube: The World’s Public Media Library

The public library is often criticized as a waste of resources; critics argue that the Information Revolution has entirely displaced print materials, and that physical repositories of print materials are thus obsolete. Yet the current economic situation has led households to eliminate Internet access from their budgets. The economic downturn has contributed to the public using the library for non-print access, thus ensuring the library’s continued role of relevant adaptability and in fact, expansion. This expansion goes beyond the walls of the library building and out into the land of theory, in part redefining exactly what a library is. This redefinition of libraries leads us to examine the popular video-sharing website YouTube. It may be argued that YouTube acts as the World’s public media library (Desmet, 2009). The inter-connectivity that YouTube allows for is quite deep in that the material itself is posted by users, essentially creating a Worldwide, self-stocking library. YouTube shares many traits with brick-and-mortar public libraries, including its broad range of resources; the freedom of information in provides; its access to the general population; its role as a public forum for the exchange of ideas and opinions; and its organizational structure.

A Broad Range of Resources

A public library should offer many different elements of information to its patrons, ranging from the instructional to the entertaining; and it is this range of possibilities that YouTube provides. Given that material is placed upon the website by the online users themselves, diverse video and audio items is available: music, movies, news, advice, lectures and interviews are accessible by the click of a mouse.

Freedom of Information

One might argue that YouTube’s reliability is compromised by the “Wikipedia Flaw,” by which material is not necessarily trustworthy due to its semi-unregulated nature. Yet public libraries may also contain material that is fought over or not trusted by a certain portion of the patron population. Anything ranging from fiction to historiographies that an individual claims is compromised can be a source of contention (Helft, 2009).


Like public libraries, YouTube provides free access to “card-carrying” members; in the case of YouTube, the library card is the World Wide Web itself. In addition to providing general access, YouTube – like public libraries – allows its users to customize their experience by creating a personal account that acts as a personalized Hold Request. But because YouTube’s videos are online, its resources are virtually limitless; users can access information instantly without waiting for previous users to return an item. Adding “favorites” tags to videos allows for a further customization of stored material and leads to a greater level of interaction between user and collection.

A Public Forum

The connections continue beyond even the material itself and build upon the very principle of the first libraries: propagation of knowledge by communication. Before written text were stored in the world’s first libraries, those same facilities offered a place of dialogue between individuals and caused information to be spread through direct interaction. In this Twenty-First Century public media library, YouTube has facilitated similar means of information conveyance: the “Comments” area, which allows viewers and fellow posters to be able to state opinions and observations in a micro-blogging format. Admittedly, few would argue that all YouTube comments are thoughtful, but YouTube is a forum for free and personal expression.

Organizational Structure

One may also argue that YouTube catalogs its materials; material is broken into elements such as Most Popular, Entertainment, News and Politics, Sports, Comedy, Most Viewed, etc. The keywords that are used to search the control vocabulary on the website are equivalent to the subject headings in traditional libraries, yet are put in place into a video’s record by the uploading user, allowing that person to decide how best to classify their own material. Such above-mentioned subject classifications may not be as extensive as a Library of Congress MARC record, but a public library user would most likely see direct correlations between the local library’s collection and the YouTube environment. This is intended to allow patrons to easily find material that is of interest using basic keywords that are commonly familiar.

Skeptics will always criticize change within librarianship and within libraries themselves, and it may in fact be a controversial claim that a website such as YouTube is in fact a media library, but there is no doubt that certain core elements of librarianship are present. All elements of knowledge have positive and negative attributes, though as Stephan Hawking once stated: “It doesn’t have to be like this, all we need to do is make sure we keep talking” (Pink Floyd, 1994).

Works Cited

Desmet, C. 2009. Teaching Shakespeare with YouTube. English Journal, 99(1), 65-70.

Helft, Miguel. 2009. YouTube in a quest to suggest more, so users search less. New York Times (Late New York Edition), December 30: B1, B6.

Mullen, R., & Wedwick, L. 2008. Avoiding the digital abyss: Getting started in the classroom with

YouTube, digital stories, and blogs. Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 82(2), 66-69.

Pink Floyd (Musical group). 1994. The division bell. New York: Sony.

The YouTube factor. 2010. American Journalism Review, 32(1), 46.